Movie Musicals in the 21st Century: In Tune or Off Key?

I grew up listening to musicals. I wasn’t even ten yet when I saw (on betamax!) the American Playhouse production of Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, and Pacific Overtures, all by Stephen Sondheim. I had no idea what I was watching but the people were singing and it was lovely. My parents had cassette tapes of original cast recordings of various Broadway musicals and I had memorized songs from Nine by Maury Yeston, The Baker’s Wife by Stephen Schwartz, Candide by Leonard Bernstein and others. Yes, I listened to Les Miserables as well. As a kid, the grandness and theatricality of the music was attractive to me.

She dreamed a dream… Anne Hathaway as Fantine, gorgeous even in despair

As I grew older, I gravitated to the more serious stuff. All of Stephen Sondheim’s work captivated my wannabe-poet’s heart. I stopped listening to Rodgers and Hammerstein and favoured Cabaret over My Fair Lady. Of course, when the DVD of the latest staging of South Pacific came up, the one at Lincoln Center with Kelli O’Hara, I was floored. “So that’s what it’s about!” I thought. The music, and the old movie, did not live up to the potential of the material. But taken into the context of the actual play, and being able to see it in that staging allowed me to truly appreciate the play for what it was.

So I’d like to think of myself as having the capacity to appreciate the musical genre. Seeing the trailer for the upcoming Les Miserables film adaptation has gotten me very excited. Tom Hooper directing? Yes! Check! Russell Crowe as Javert? Yes! Check! Anne Hathaway as Fantine? Yes! Check! Check twice! (I love Anne Hathaway) I’m not the biggest fan of Hugh Jackman but he will do well as Jean Val Jean.

And Anne Hathaway’s version of I Dreamed a Dream? I think I creamed my pants when I heard it in the theaters. The lush orchestration and the acting she placed in her singing. She has a great voice. Fine, it’s in no comparison to Patti Lupone or Lea Salonga, but she acted the hell out of that version. I loved it.

So I ended up writing my thoughts on movie musicals at to herald the coming of Les Miserables. My article Movie Musicals in the 21st Century: In Tune or Off Key? details some highlights that I could recall immediately from the year 2000 onwards. I left out some things on purpose — High School Musical and Across the Universe but mentioned what I think were what I thought were important films to talk about the genre in the 21st Century.

To have done a full-on movie musical review would include tons of research as I would have to go back and watch over again Cabaret, Funny Girl, The Pajama Game, Kiss Me Kate, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and all the Gene Kelly films. That’s a lot! I didn’t think I’d have the time (or the space) to write about it. I’ll leave that to the archivists, cinema historians, and the learned critics. I just love it and I can write. These are the parameters with which I’ve set myself with.

So, in a nutshell, I’m super excited to see Anne Hathaway knock that song out of the ballpark and to hear Russell Crowe’s take on Stars. Those two are probably my favourite songs from Les Miserables.

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